Category Archives: Family Life and Motherhood

In the Red-Thoughts on Gratitude and Humility

I got a new job just before Thanksgiving. This employment was an answer to many moons of prayer, fasting, work, and heartache, and we are so incredibly grateful to Heavenly Father for the blessing. The job is downtown whereas I live in a suburb, so I have about a 35-45 minute drive with light traffic—the perfect environment for deep thinking and not just a little prayer.

I’ve been pondering and studying about gratitude for a long time now—months. It started with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk from the April 2014 General Conference, titled “Grateful in Any Circumstances.”  In it, he explains:

“True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.”

He talks about gratitude being a state of mind, a way of being, instead of just something we do when we receive blessings. In my family, we have been trying to foster this attitude through a daily gratitude journal and through trying to find the good in our days, even when they are challenging. More than once, statements such as, “I only threw up for a half an hour last night instead of the whole night,” were listed as things we were grateful for.

One of those moments for gratitude in trials came this month:

“I am grateful that the car didn’t actually light on fire and that it broke down on the off-ramp and not in the middle of the freeway.”

Yes, my car gave up the ghost (and all of its oil) on the way home from work. Our dire financial circumstances not having changed much (I hadn’t yet received a paycheck at the time of the breakdown and many, many bills were due), we were down to one vehicle—our lumbering hulk of a van, plagued with its own reliability (and gas-guzzling!) issues. My husband and children had to walk to and from school/work (about a mile each way), and they were then stuck at home with no way to Cub Scouts, Scouts, Mutual, or any other activities after I left for the night. The long commute meant more wear and tear on a vehicle that needs to not be worn nor torn upon, and half of my check eaten up in gasoline expenses. We needed a vehicle, and essentially had no way to purchase much of one, but were saving and finding money where we could toward that end.

Our good friends texted us and asked us to come over before I left for work, they had a Christmas present for us. My husband and I went over, hoping that they weren’t going to go overboard and give us money or something. (Yeah, I know. Pride.)

Imagine the shock and awe when our friend walked us to his garage and handed my husband a folder full of documents and a set of keys. He started talking about the title, registration, the tires are good, the oil just got changed, etc., as I tried to understand exactly what he was saying. When it sank in, the tears started—and didn’t stop until after I had driven this Christmas present to work and had some time at my desk to compose myself.

The whole way to work, I was thinking:

There is no way to thank our friends sufficiently for what they have done for us. We are “in the red”—so in debt to them for this gift, and there is no way we could ever repay them. Perhaps someday we will be in financial circumstances to be able to pay back the monetary value of the gift, but the emotional value, the rescue—there is no way to place a price on that. It was overwhelming to think of. It IS overwhelming to think of. Just writing this brings the tears back to my eyes.

As grateful as I was, and am, I also felt uncomfortable being in a position where we couldn’t “balance the books.” It is such a huge thing—this isn’t a couple hours of babysitting that we can pay back with a dinner or some brownies. It’s a blow to pride, if one is a prideful person, to be helped in such a substantial way.

All the same, my love for my friends grew. I feel their love for me. I feel more fully the love of my Heavenly Father, in providing these wonderful friends and their amazing selflessness.

I began to see parallels.

Didn’t my Heavenly Father provide another Friend to rescue me in such a deep and meaningful way that I could never, ever settle that account?

Jesus Christ, my Savior, gave a gift I can never repay. I am forever “in the red,” indebted to Him, with no way to even put a price on what He has done. How often have I felt completely incapable to even begin to make it up to Him? That’s because I absolutely am incapable of repaying that debt.

Like my friends, He doesn’t want me to “make it up”—He did it for love. He did it with no desire for honor, or glory, or reward.

“In the Red” has new meaning when I realize that I am truly saved in the red—the red blood that flowed from the pores of my Savior’s body as he agonized for me, and later as He died to pay the physical cost of the sins of all creation. We are all in the red.

I am reminded of King Benjamin’s sermon to his people in Mosiah 2:

20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.

There is no way to “settle the books” with our God. We are all “in the red.”

Back to President Uchtdorf’s talk about gratitude:

In any circumstance, our sense of gratitude is nourished by the many and sacred truths we do know: that our Father has given His children the great plan of happiness; that through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect, and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss will be replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”

How blessed we are if we recognize God’s handiwork in the marvelous tapestry of life. Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes! A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues.

 

I think gratitude inspires humility exactly because we can’t repay—we can’t settle up. We have to acknowledge that this thing that has been done, whether it is someone meeting a physical need, or the ultimate gift of the Atonement, is something that cannot be repaid. The gift of our lives, our bodies, our families, our Earth with all its beauty, this great plan of happiness that we have been given—all of these things are beyond anything we can repay. That gratitude should underscore everything we do, everything we are! Understanding how powerless we are to ever repay is exactly what links our gratitude with our humility.

We are all, forever, in the red. That’s exactly how it was designed to be. To the extent that we remember that, we can turn our lives over to our Heavenly Father and with gratitude and humility in our hearts, take full advantage of our Savior’s Atonement and the plan of happiness.

Why My Family Did the #IceBucketChallenge; or, Dear Leslie, this one’s for you.

My sister Leslie is my favorite of my older sisters. Sorry to the rest of you, but 1)she’s probably the only one who would’ve read this web blog anyway so you won’t even know I’ve said it, and 2)c’mon. She’s your favorite too.

My earliest memory of Leslie was when I turned 7. I had just been part of a merger–meaning my dad had married her mom. I had 6 older siblings already, and then became “#11 of 12” in another family. It was cool, because Rachel, my actual favorite sister (but not older, so there’s no contradiction there), was my best friend so it was kinda an extended sleepover, at first.  Anyway, that’s another story.  My 7th birthday, I got a package! From California! It was a red Minnie Mouse watch from my sister Leslie.

Leslie lived far away, in California–so when she came for Thanksgiving or other visits, it was a HUGE deal for me. Leslie taught me to play poker (don’t pick up the cards until they’re all dealt. They’ll cut your hand off!). She laughed at my jokes when everyone else just rolled their eyes or told me I was inappropriate. She called sometimes when I was a teenager, just to talk to me (don’t let any boy treat you like anything less than a princess, no matter how cute he is). When all the sisters got together to go shopping and elected me to watch all their kids instead of going, Leslie was the one who thought to buy me a shirt. It was black and white striped and I wore it until my midriff hung out the bottom and it was mercifully disappeared. I never felt like the goober of the family around her. Leslie got me.

Leslie was an artist, a sculptor, an interior designer. She was so creative and talented. She was so beautiful. She was full of life, spunk, sarcastic wit, fire.  This is a picture of her, popping up out of the sunroof of the limo–this was classic Leslie:img086
So what does all this have to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge? Well, my favorite older sister was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis. ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It started with her having problems with her hands. My sister, the artist, couldn’t use her hands anymore. It progressed so quickly. We kept hearing things–look at Stephen Hawking, he’s been around for decades; it might stop progressing at some point; it could be quick; it just depends…..

I started calling Leslie to talk to her, to hear her voice, because she was losing her ability to talk, too.  Oooh, how it broke my heart to hear the slur, and the frustration because her mouth, her vocal chords, couldn’t keep up with her perfectly untouched, amazing brain. I wished I could record everything, because I knew it was going to end soon.

I had the opportunity to travel to California when I could take time off from work, and help out when her sweet husband couldn’t be there. Those times were bittersweet. I remember hanging out on the couch, watching HGTV with my sister, just having conversations. I still hear her voice from time to time, berating me gently for not following my dreams: “Don’t wait! If there’s something you love, that you want to do, don’t wait! You never know what is going to happen, you have to just do it now. Don’t wait.”  I never wanted to leave, but I also could just feel the hopelessness of knowing that no matter how long it took for Leslie’s body to kill her, she would be trapped in there, perfectly sound of mind, with no ability to speak, move, swallow–yet strangely she was still able to feel pain. I would cry myself to sleep every night while I was there, and pray for the strength to be positive and to be as cool for my sister as she was for me when I had needed her.  I hope I was. I really tried, even though there was often nothing I could do but…..well sometimes there was just nothing I could do.  img087

My sister passed away, leaving her awesome and wonderful husband, and my niece Andrea (who is pretty freaking amazing too).

When I talked about Leslie, I would say she died from ALS, and people just shook their heads. I could say, “you know, Lou Gehrig’s disease” and then they might get it. Usually not. When Leslie was sick, there was like, one or two experimental drugs she could try, that might help, might slow things down. They didn’t. There isn’t a lot of demand for research for cures or treatments when people don’t even know what ALS is.  Usually fundraising for ALS gets lumped in with Multiple Sclerosis fundraisers.

Along comes the Ice Bucket Challenge. The rules are simple. You have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and donate 10 bucks to ALS research, or you donate $100 to ALS research instead. You take a video of your ridiculous reaction to being freezing cold and wet, and challenge others. It started with one man, and then his friends, then it spread through the pro athlete community, then celebrities and then EVERYWHERE.  It’s gotten to the point where people are bothered. There’s a backlash. People are angry because it wastes water.  Or because they have info that the ALS Association doesn’t spend the money it gets on research, just salaries for officials. Or that ALS cure research means stem-cell research, which of course means that if you support it, you want babies aborted.  All, as my Brit friends would say (or Doctor Who), bollocks.  Here’s my thought.  This challenge is spreading because people can do something good, and have fun, and challenge other people and watch their videos. Enough evil and sadness and negativity is spreading, and people are super-psyched to pass on all of THOSE Facebook posts. Why can’t we do this and just spread the goodwill, ya know?

There is so much more….. every time I see someone I know, or don’t know, or celebri-know, dump a bucket of water over their head, and then freak out, and then laugh, I picture my sister laughing along with me. I know that as a family member  of someone who died from ALS, I feel the comfort of knowing that other people are learning just what our family, and my sister went through. Then there’s the money–the kind of money being thrown at this disease could very well fund at least some treatment, if not a cure.

Project ALS is an organization that funds and facilitates research for a cure for ALS. They have a 4-star, 91.4 percent rating on CharityNavigator.org. Here’s a link for them:  www.projectals.org . There’s the ALS Therapy Development Institute, also 4 stars and 97.31 approval rating through Charity Navigator. Their link is www.als.net.  (For the record, the ALS Association also has a 4-star, 90.73 percent rating through that website).

I’d love for you to go watch this video on YouTube. It’s Anthony Carbajal, doing a rather burlesque Ice Bucket Challenge. If you don’t want to see a man in a bikini top and tight shorts, washing his car (sometimes with his butt), then fast-forward to about 1:44 into it. What I REALLY want you to see is his explanation of what the Ice Bucket Challenge means to him.

Then, go to http://www.bostern.com/blog/2014/08/15/what-an-als-family-really-thinks-about-the-ice-bucket-challenge/  and read.

If you need some fun, you can watch the Williams family Ice Bucket Challenge. There are cute kids and stuff, too.  Then maybe YOU can jump on this bandwagon. It’s a worthy cause, I promise you.

But for me, it’s personal. This one’s for you, Leslie (I still get choked up when I see Design on a Dime).

 

The Rope Across the Road

I saw a great video tonight…. and it has me thinking…. First, here’s the video.  It’s funny. Watch……

Pretty silly, huh…  all those cars, stopping or slowing down, thinking that there was some obstacle ahead of them. All of this based on the actions of two guys standing on the sides of the street.

Time for the deep thoughts.  How often do WE do this?  We can play all of the roles in this video.

First, how often do we let what other people are doing/saying determine our focus or our actions for the moment/day/week/year/lifetime? The controversy of the moment becomes our focus. I see it happen all the time with things like Facebook and the internet researchers we call the “news”–for example, HOW many people jumped on the “Boycott KFC” bandwagon when we all thought that they had kicked out a poor little girl with horrendous dog-mauling disfiguration. How many of us passed that news along, or shared it on Facebook, only to find out that it was a complete hoax? I know that I have been swept up in controversies from time to time, when my focus would have been better served in just driving along, doing what I need to do for my happiness and that of my family.

I’m not advocating isolationism here–just that sometimes, the only reason WE get caught up in the clamor of the world, is because it is clamoring so loudly–not because we would give it any merit if we were to sit and analyze it, but because, I don’t know, if the guys LOOK like they are pulling a rope across the road, there must be a rope, right?

I know that I sometimes doubt what I am doing, even when I’ve carefully thought about it, analyzed it, prayed about it–just because someone expresses doubt or thinks I’m wrong. I might get defensive because someone has an opinion that I see as an attack on my methods. I see ropes across the road where there are none.

Secondly, how often are WE the rope-pullers? Are we causing people to stop and question themselves, their paths, their actions, when in reality, they don’t need to? This happens a lot with friends and family, or people at church–they are tooling along, doing their thing, and we suddenly see a problem with it. So we point it out. Enough people start pulling that rope, as it were, and now our “driver” is stopping, or slowing, thinking that there must be some issue, simply because WE see one. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t provide guidance or advice. To keep with the symbolism, of course you want to keep drivers from falling into a ginormous sinkhole just ahead…. but just be careful to not be the guy pulling the invisible ropes.

The one I want to be? The guy on the bike at the end, that doesn’t know what those guys are doing, but has places to be and things to do, so he just avoids the whole mess all together, without missing a beat.

An Open Letter to My Sisters on Both Sides of the Ordain Women Controversy

Nope, this isn’t going to be my point of view on who’s right and who’s wrong. Don’t worry. There’s enough discourse out there about this issue, and nothing I say is going to be wiser or more timely, or have any more of an effect on anyone than what’s been said.

What I want to say is this:

I love you.

You are my sisters—daughters of the same Heavenly Father, inheritors of the same divinity, amazing and talented and wonderful sisters of my heart and my soul.

In reality, that’s something that needs to be said more LOUDLY and more often. I love you. I really do. It needs to be said without qualifications.  No more, “I love you but….” just I LOVE YOU and that’s that.

I know—this is NOT going to solve the problems between us. They are complex. There is so much hurt on both sides, so much fighting and bickering, that regardless of anything else that happens, SATAN IS WINNING as he is driving a huge wedge between sisters. Because if a group of women gets together, hold the phone, stop the presses, things WILL get done. If that “thing” is “defeat evil and drive Satan from our midst” then by gosh, Satan is toast. So if he can get us fighting amongst ourselves, he can laugh and shake his chains and sit back in his recliner and watch us like the World Cup. All it takes is a little seed of contention, and wow. Look what it does. It makes me weep.

So no more of that from me.Sisterly love

I know that we may not agree on some things—and this issue IS awfully important. But so what? Does that make you any less my sister? Any less a daughter of God?  It does not.

Here’s what else I need to tell you:

I don’t know what is driving you to make the decisions you are making. I can look at you and try to understand, but I will never understand. I haven’t been in your shoes, I haven’t walked your path.

You do not know why I feel how I do either. That’s okay. You haven’t walked my path, and I can’t expect you to understand my point of view, either.

We can try. We can reach out and seek to understand one another. But every single word we speak or hear, every sight we see, is always going to be colored by the lens of our own experience. We can come closer to understanding, but we will never truly understand one another. If we say we do, we lie. We only pretend. But it’s okay. We aren’t meant to comprehend each other’s soul, not completely.

Only one person can truly understand each and every human being, having atoned for each of us, having taken upon Himself our sorrows and infirmities. That One is the Savior, and this is the reason why He is the only competent judge. So let me say this:

The WHY doesn’t matter. The WHAT doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is that you are my sister.  If you have made choices that have brought you to a place I would not think to go, my heart can break for you, I can pray for you, I can be your friend and your sister, but the one thing I CANNOT do, is judge you.  I can be sad if you pull away across that invisible “line in the sand,” but I cannot and WILL NOT push you further. MY arms are open—no strings attached. Not for “when you come to your senses” or any of that rubbish—they are open NOW. For wherever you are on your journey.

You are my sister, and I love you.

Poems from My Dad

I’ve been going through boxes in my family’s effort to clean and organize our home (a battle that has been going on for six years now). I opened a heavy cardboard box, the musty smell lingering in my nostrils. The box is full of pictures—hundreds, maybe over a thousand–from my Dad’s life. There are an inordinate amount of pictures of me, but also many, many pictures of people I don’t recognize at all. I have my work cut out for me.

Dad passed away when I was thirteen. He was 46 when I was born, and already had adult children, so there was a whole life there that I knew very little about. I won’t bore/sadden you with details of how just about everything pertaining to my Dad disappeared for the rest of my youth, but suffice it to say that this box is essentially all I have of him. It was given to me when I was about 24 years old. Since then, I occasionally pull things out and piece together what his life must have been like, and what HE was like, beyond the few memories I personally have of him.

My dad was many things: Teamster, welder, carpenter, salesman, bartender (I think–judging from pictures), terrible father, awesome father, good friend, genealogist, dutiful son….. and poet. I am going to put up one of his poems for all (my 4 readers) to see:Lee Lay

Restless Soul (by Lee Lay)

Like the winds that blow thru the high skies

and the waves that roll thru the sea

Like the shifting sands of the desert

is this restless soul in me.

Like the birds that fly thru the air so free

and the wild things that roam alone

Is this restless soul inside of me

that won’t let me stay at home.

To have the things that other men have

I know can never be

As long as this restless soul in me

keeps yearning to be free.

 

I’m like the wind and like the birds

I’m like the waves and the sand

To stay in one place very long

is more than I can stand.

 

All you happy people have pity upon me

For I can never be like you

My restless soul

Won’t let me free.

————————————–

To me, Dad was silly, strong, mischievous, and devil-may-care–this poem, and a few others like it, taught me that he had a melancholy inside that most didn’t see. I wish I could have had more of an opportunity to know him.

The good news is that I feel him with me all the time. I also see him in the mirror, and in my children. Lastly, I know that I will be with him again when at last we all meet in heaven.

The Long Journey

My son is a genius. He’s always been ahead of the curve. He walked early, talked young (and hasn’t stopped), he could kick a ball and throw with accuracy as a toddler. So when he, as a fourteen-month-old, started wanting to sit on his little Froggy potty, and even pooped in it once, I was secretly fist pumping and practicing my sympathetic looks for all the mommies of the boys his age in our playgroup.
frog

Then it stopped. With his sudden halt in toilet interest, came a corresponding spike in my desperation. Meanwhile, one mom I ran into at Target (buying new underwear for her boy), told me all about how she had trained him at not-quite-eighteen-months, by filling him with water and juice and letting him run around the house naked all day with multiple potties set up in different areas of the house. That seemed pretty crazy. I wasn’t quite there at that point. My little monkey was only eighteen months old. There was no reason to panic, yet.

Months passed. He turned two. I started suggesting he use the potty. At first it was just a quick, “Hey, ya wanna try the potty?” every once in a while. He never wanted to. When he turned three, it turned into “WHY don’t you want to go in the potty?” His answer, “I just want to go in my diaper, Mom.”  Well, never let it be said that he doesn’t know what he wants.

I started trying to bribe him. I got him a packet of cool underwear. He agreed we should try wearing them. I didn’t even have pants on him, and he went in the potty! Once. Then he discovered that 1) peeing out your underwear feels funny enough to stand there and laugh hysterically while you do it, and 2) Mom freaking out only lasts for thirty seconds until she realizes that she doesn’t want this to be a fight, or about control, or a negative experience, and gets a hold of herself enough to just put a diaper on you and clean up the puddle. In. The. Carpet.  Back to the status quo.

My little boy’s butt’s best friend

Three and a half years old. My sweet boy has had sensitive skin in his nether regions for his whole life. What changed is that he became extremely articulate in describing just how bad his diaper rashes hurt. At the same time, he started thinking it was funny to lie about if he had a wet diaper. At first, I was hypervigilant, making him come get a change even if he said he wasn’t wet. Then, something snapped, and I told him, “Fine. Don’t get changed, but you’ll get a rash because you’re lying.” I choked down my tears at his terrible, sometimes bleeding, rashes, hoping he would learn to either let me change him, or just GO TO THE POTTY! Nope. He won. I went back to changing him at the slightest hint of poo or pee, because I couldn’t handle seeing his pain. Our whole family learned the chant, “You wouldn’t get a rash if you’d go in the potty,” whenever his sensitive skin presented him with diaper rash despite our best efforts.

I kept hearing from people who wanted to give me potty-training advice. All the nifty methods just seemed either silly, or cruel, or somewhere between. The one thing that stuck with me was the statement my sister-in-law said made about “forcing it” with her children, and how sometimes her children still wet. She suspects it’s in response to the way they were potty trained.  I just wanted my boy to learn to go in the potty. I was okay with waiting for him to want it, as long as he wanted it before preschool started, because I didn’t want diapers to hold him back. I started pointing out his friends in underwear. We went on a field trip with the preschool his older best friend attended, and I made sure to remind my guy that he couldn’t go to preschool like his buddy without being potty trained. He said, “Well, I guess I can’t go, because I don’t want to go in the potty.” Again, he knew the consequences, and just didn’t want to make that leap.

Then, one magical day, my husband just randomly asked our almost-four-year-old, “Hey buddy, do you wanna wear underwear today?” and he said, “Yes! I would like to!” He wore cool Spiderman underwear, and had one small accident. I put him in little tightie-whities for the rest of the day (so cute, by the way). The next day, I pulled out one pair of Superman underwear, and a huge pile of white briefs.  “You can wear the cool ones until you have an accident. Then it’s the white ones.” He agreed, and to my surprise, he hasn’t had to wear white underwear in the month since we made that arrangement.

Angels singing, sun shining in magical rays around our home, it’s a miracle! Once my sweet, smart boy decided it was time for the underpants, he took care of business. We’ve since been on short outings to the store, and recently, a long outing to the zoo. The two accidents he’s had have been the result of either a bad tummy from medicine, or a locked gate blocking the bathroom. We spent the month keeping him in diapers for sleeping, but he never wet the diapers. He climbs in bed with us sometimes, and I haven’t been ready to risk being peed on during the night—but that’s all changing. We told him if he had a month of dry diapers in the morning, he would get to wear underwear at night. Tonight will be his first night in Superman underwear. My fingers will be crossed all night long.

Praying for dry desert dreams for my little boy.

Or maybe not. After all, my son is a genius.